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In 2018, the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) will be 250 years old. Founded on 10th December 1768, the RA was a result of royal initiative, overseen and actively supported by George III, working with a group of well-established artists and architects. It was led by William Chambers, who wanted an institution that would support their status and professional practice. Its creation was part of a more general move in the artistic community to club together for purposes of friendship, teaching and the organisation of annual exhibitions. Together, the first members of the RA established an effective system of art teaching, annual lectures given by the first President, Joshua Reynolds (the Discourses), a fine art library, an annual open exhibition and a system of charitable relief for impoverished artists.  

Over the last couple of years, the RA has been developing plans to celebrate its 250th anniversary. We will be opening a much enlarged campus when our new building in Burlington Gardens opens in early 2018, enabling dedicated space for public lectures and learning, greater visibility of our postgraduate art school, and an opportunity for the first time to display our historic collection more systematically. We moved to our current location in Piccadilly in 1868, the year of our centenary. There is appropriateness in the fact that we are nearly doubling the size of the site 150 years later.

However, we would like to extend the celebrations beyond Piccadilly, and indeed beyond London. This would better reflect the RA’s historic role and impact in promoting art and artists in Britain. Many of the UK’s regional museums were for instance supplied in the nineteenth century by works painted by Royal Academicians, bought by town councillors during visits to the annual Summer Exhibition. Moreover, we see significant advantages for all in using our anniversary to draw attention to the links between the RA and the broader network of museums and galleries across the country.

What we are hoping to do is to establish an effective network of organisations that will consider interpreting their collection to mark our 250th anniversary, whether it is by organising a special exhibition or display or by highlighting works by Royal Academicians in the collection as a whole or, as is perfectly possible, by doing this digitally. Many organisations have already indicated that they will do something appropriate by highlighting works in their collection or by organising a thematic display.

On Tuesday 24th May, we are holding a forum at the Royal Academy to discuss how best to take these plans forward. We hope that representatives from as many UK museums and galleries as possible will attend, contribute ideas, and help us expand our celebrations to create mutual benefit and lasting legacy.

Please see below for details.

Charles Saumarez Smith

RA250 Forum
Ideas and Discussion

Tuesday 24th May 2016


The John Madejski Fine Rooms
Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House          
London W1J 0BD

RSVP compulsory:


11am: Welcome note from President, Christopher Le Brun

11.10am: Masterplan presentation from Secretary and Chief Executive, Charles Saumarez Smith

11.30am: Programming RA250 from Artistic Director, Tim Marlow

12noon: Marketing RA250 from Director of Public Engagement, Will Dallimore         

12.30pm: Formal discussion and Q&A with senior staff members of the RA           

1pm: Lunch and continuation of Q&A

2pm: Site Tour with Project Director of the Masterplan, Stephen Grant

3pm: Curator led tour of In the Age of Giorgione